The hidden side of clinical trials

Watch the AllTrials TEDx talk on YouTube

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Evidence matters to the public

Join us on 1st November at Parliament to make the case

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Plant Science Panel

Insecticides, biofuels, GMOs …

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'The Ugly Truth'

by Tracey Brown, director of Sense About Science

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A Scientist's Account of the Peer Review Process

You can also download this section as a document file for the classroom. This content works well with lesson plan 1 - peer review role play.

We asked three scientists for their thoughts about the peer review process. Here is what they had to say.

Dr Caly Stevens

Dr Carly Stevens

1. What are your research interests?
I do research into how pollution can cause loss of biodiversity in grasslands.  Most of my research is into nitrogen pollution.  Nitrogen is one of the major contributors to acid rain and although it is an important nutrient for plants to grow, it can also be a pollutant. I think that this is a really important topic to do research on because the findings could effect how we look after the environment.

2. Why do you want to publish your research in journals?
The first time I published my research findings in an academic journal everyone was really interested and all the newspapers wrote about it.  This was really good because one of the reasons that I publish my research is to raise awareness of the problems that pollution can cause.  I also publish my research so that other scientists can read about it.  This means that when they do their own research they can see if their findings agree with mine. You don’t get paid for publishing your research but it is really good to help improve your career and help you to get a better job.

3. What is peer review?
Every time I publish my research in an academic journal it has to go through a process called ‘peer review’.  This is where your work is sent to other scientists who know a lot about the subject you do research on.  They decide if it is good enough quality for the journal that you want to publish in.  Sometimes they say that it isn’t good enough and send it back for you to change before you are allowed to get it published.

4. Is it difficult to get research published in journals?
It can be very hard to get your research published.  This is because some journals have hundreds of people who want to get their work printed in them; they are read by scientists all over the world so it can be very competitive. 

5. Why do you feel peer review is important?
Peer review of research is really important because it means that only research of a high standard is published.  This is really important because if we read about something in an academic journal and even if it is reported in the news, we need to know that it is research that has been properly conducted.


Dr Peter Martin

Dr Peter Martin

1. What are your research interests?
I study how complex materials flow, like toothpaste, ketchup, mustard and bread dough. I am now working on ice cream. Ice cream is a complex mixture of solid ice particles and gas bubbles in a thick liquid.

2. Why do you want to publish your research in journals?
One of the best things about publishing a paper is getting people to think seriously, and consequently critically, about your ideas. Studying how complex materials flow helps us to improve industrial production processes – making products better and cheaper – as well as developing our knowledge of the science behind it all.

3. What is peer review?
By submitting a paper to a journal we are asking them to send it out to other experts in the area who will judge it. If they reach a consensus that the work is valid and sufficiently noteworthy, the journal will publish our paper.

4. Why do you feel peer review is important?
This way, when other people read the paper they can be sure it can be trusted.

5. How did you choose a journal to submit your research to?
Different journals will attract different readers, so we had to think who we wanted to read our paper and what journals they read. There is also an informal ranking of which journals publish the most significant work. It is more prestigious to have a paper published in a top journal and readers will regard such a paper more seriously – however, top journals are more selective in what they publish.

6. Did your research get accepted by the journal editor?
The reviewers recognised that there was probably something significant within the results, but suggested that more experimental work was required to confirm the results for the paper to be suitable for this journal. This was a pretty good result, since often papers get flatly rejected. I was particularly encouraged that the reviewers had given considerable thought to the data analysis I had conducted, making a number of insightful comments.


Jason Braithwaite

1. What are your research interests?
I am a cognitive psychologist and brain scientist. I specifically investigate how the brain processes, handles, and manipulates visual information from the world ‘out there’ to create what we experience.

One of my interests is in visual selective attention. The brain is constantly bombarded and overloaded with sensory information all the time.  The brain needs a mechanism to help filter out irrelevant information in order to guide appropriate behaviour and action. My experiments involve running lots of computer-based experimental conditions, similar to trying to search for a friend in a busy shopping centre, or a car in a cluttered car park.  These tasks require us to search for our ‘target’ information and reject distracting and irrelevant information.

2. Why do you want to publish your research in journals?
When studies have been completed, scientists want to publish their findings so that they can be read by the widest possible audience. 

3. How do you choose a journal to submit your research to?
My publishing strategy is to always try to publish in the very best journals I can – those regarded by my scientific community as major sources of quality information and those capable of generating the highest impact for my work.  This is a sign that the findings themselves are of high quality.

4. What is peer review?
Peer review generally consists of the submitted article being read by a journal editor and three independent expert reviewers.  The reviewers read the article and send their comments back to the editor.  The editor then decides whether to reject the article, invite a revision, or accept the article for publication as it is.

5. Why do you feel peer review of research is important?
This process seeks to ensure that the science being reported is logically sound, methodologically appropriate and theoretically important.           

6. Is it difficult to be asked to improve your research?
I may not agree with all the comments directed at my work – but where I disagree, the emphasis is on me to make a convincing sound argument for my case. I cannot think of a single article I have published which has not benefited greatly from the process. On the whole, the most useful comments are those that concentrate on improving the science.